Katherine Sacks: What was your first restaurant? How did you get the money?
Aaron Burgau: Patois is my first restaurant. My partner and I have known each other for a long time. He knew I was looking for a restaurant, and he was looking for a restaurant. When we found the place, we didn't have a concept in mind, but I have a classical French background. We came up with the name Patois, based on the language [Leon and Pierre Touzet's] French grandfather spoke. We wanted to have a French feel, but also keep it pretty eclectic. Patois is a dialect, it lends us to do a lot of different things. My nationality if Filipino, Italian, and French, so I pull from a lot of different areas.
KS: Who are your mentors?
AB: Gerard Maras and Susan Spicer. Working with Susan was my first job out of culinary school. She taught me how to have an eye for detail and to think like a cook, instead of just going through the motions. And Gerard helped me form my philosophy of cooking. He taught me a lot of the classical sauces and bases for cooking, techniques you don't learn in culinary school.
KS: Tell me about your growth at Patois?
AB: When you look back five years later, you see how you evolve your techniques and how your philosophy of cooking changes. Seeing the trends change over the past five years, we're thinking more about how to create a more sustainable restaurant.
KS: What's your customer service philosophy?
AB: I just like the customer to be able to come and know that I'm giving the freshest, nicest ingredients. Before the storm there was 800 restaurants. Now there are 1,300 restaurants.
KS: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant group?
AB: Running a small restaurant. I buy the flowers; I mop the floors; I take out trash when I have to; I buy the plates; I run around all day getting ingredients. I'm not above doing anything. I'm very humble in what I do. I think the biggest challenge being a chef is that I have to juggle all the bullshit things when I just want to cook. You're the florist, the party planner, everything. You have to juggle those things, being a manager and a cook, and I have two babies, so I have to be a family man as well. It's constant working, and you have to be passionate about it.
KS: How do you inspire your staff?
AB: You have to constantly keep things fresh, to keep things going. One of the hardest things is trying to be creative everyday, of every hour. You can't just make a menu and keep it on for years and years and years. You have to keep it fresh. If you are running a soup special every week, you're cooks won't respect you. You have to be creative and talk with them about ideas.